The title to this article is not an attention grabber. Indeed, it could cause one’s eyes to glaze over, and quickly move on without reading the article. However, the Regularly Used, Non- Owned (RUNO) Vehicle Exclusion, which is found in virtually all automobile insurance policies in Pennsylvania, is critically and practically important in this era of employer-provided vehicles, multiple vehicles per household, divorce, and non-traditional family situations. The multiple exclamation points following the title serve to point out that this arcane and superficially boring topic may become central to your life and happiness under certain circumstances.
The RUNO exclusion means generally that an auto insurance company will not provide benefits that would otherwise be required if the incident giving rise to a claim involves an individual covered under the policy who regularly uses a vehicle not covered by that insurer’s policy. Fundamentally, this exclusion is designed to prevent an insurer from being called to answer for a vehicle it does not insure, and for conduct it did not intend to insure.
A sad example of how this exclusion works has to do with police officers. Assume that an officer has purchased his or her own auto policy that provides good coverage for the officer and the officer’s family. One of the keystones of a good auto policy is the provision of uninsured (UM) and underinsured (UIM) motorist coverage. These benefits apply where the responsible driver has either no insurance (UM) or inadequate insurance (UIM) to meet the needs of the case. Also assume that the officer is severely injured in an auto accident during the course of his or her duties, and that the responsible driver has little or no insurance coverage. One would think that this is exactly why the officer has purchased UM and UIM coverage, and that he should have access to it under his own policy. Not so. The RUNO exclusion prevents the officer from recovering UM or UIM benefits under his own policy because he was driving a vehicle that he did not own, but drove regularly. That officer may well feel that he paid for nothing when he purchased that coverage. Moreover, the victim’s life may have been changed forever due to someone else’s negligence, and there is no hope of being fully compensated.
To be fair, it must be acknowledged that an insurer does not intend to insure against all the risks involved in operating a police vehicle when it sells a personal policy. Further, individuals who drive an employer’s vehicle as part of their work are generally covered under the employer’s workers compensation and auto insurance policies. However, UM and UIM coverages are not mandatory, and one who is injured while driving for an employer may find that the employer declined to afford such coverage. Such an employee may be left far from whole after sustaining serious injuries while driving the employer’s vehicle.
More to the point for the average family, however, is the reality that the same scenario may play out in more surprising but no less harmful ways. In the case of Rother v. Erie Insurance Exchange, a 2012 case from the Pennsylvania Superior Court, the youthful accident victim was denied UIM benefits because he was driving his father’s vehicle, and not that of his mother. The boy lived with his mother who had UIM coverage in her policy. However, he was driving his father’s separately insured vehicle at the time of the accident. For a mere two weeks prior to the accident the son had used his father’s vehicle to commute to and from work , and for emergencies. Nevertheless, the court ruled that this use was regular, and not isolated, casual or incidental. The RUNO exclusion applied, and UIM benefits were denied.
Many other such fact patterns can be readily imagined: the college kid borrows his aunt’s vehicle for a semester; one has a prolonged stay with a friend or relative, and drives their vehicles during that period; a teen buys a car and cut-rate auto insurance separate from the rest of the family vehicles, etc. All of these people are at risk for what is known as the “coverage tragedy.”
The lessons to be learned from these examples are (1) that it is best, even if more expensive, to have all household autos insured under one good policy, and (2) that it is imperative to determined what kind of auto coverage applies to a vehicle the one does not own, but will use on a regular basis. Having use of a poorly insured vehicle is no bargain, and can lead to tragic results.